ROCHESTER, NY Next month, Kimberley, South Africa, widely known as the diamond-mining center of that country, celebrates a diversity of musical riches beyond jewels. From July 7 to August 29, two cultures steeped in disparate musical traditions will exchange these riches, as four music teachers three American and one Canadian get the extraordinary opportunity to participate in a teaching and learning project in Kimberley, the central South African town of 30,000.
Umcolo!, also known as the Kimberley Project, is a music education program originally sponsored jointly by the Eastman School of Music and the Philadelphia Boys Choir. Umcolo! provides general and vocal musical experiences for South African children who attend schools with no formal music education program. Tailored to the selected teachers’ strengths, the project also provides the visiting music teachers the experience of teaching, living among, and learning from people in an unfamiliar culture known for its rich indigenous musical traditions.
The project began in 1996 and is currently headed by Dr. Kathy Robinson, assistant professor of music education at the Eastman School of Music, and Steven Fisher, associate music director of the newly launched Pennsylvania Boy Choir. Dr. Robinson, who joins the teachers to work in Kimberley, speaks with enthusiasm about this year’s participants: “Our teachers are very diverse in their background and experience. That’s one of the great things about the program — we have a number of opportunities to ‘catch’ people at various points in their careers, which give us many riches.”
Hailing from Newton center, Massachusetts; Frostburg, Maryland; Chicago, Illinois; and Waterloo, Ontario; the teachers have experiences ranging from elementary to collegiate, urban to suburban, vocal and instrumental, and include both a recent graduate and a seasoned teacher with 27 years of experience.
Umcolo! will work with two primary schools and one high school in Kimberley, and will ultimately serve over 2300 children in the schools, community, and through local church choirs. According to Dr. Robinson, this “cultural exchange” fulfills needs and interests from both parties, so each gets something special from the experience.
Fisher and Robinson are hopeful that in the future there will be even more teachers participating in Umcolo!, an expansion that would be made possible by corporate support. In 2002, the Pennsylvania Boy Choir will make its inaugural tour, not surprisingly to South Africa.
Note: Interviews and photos are available.